Factories Won’t Magically Return — But There Are Other Jobs


The NewCo Daily: Today’s Top Stories

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The anger that elected Donald Trump, many believe, was about lost jobs, but not just any lost jobs. It’s factory jobs that Trump voters crave. Trouble is, they’re not coming back: Today’s release of the December jobs report, the final one for President Obama’s tenure, shows a gain of 156,000 jobs total for the month. That even includes 17,000 manufacturing jobs! But the factory-job tally for the whole year shows a drop of 45,000 (ABC News).

This is an irreversible, decades-long transformation. Even the jobs that survive a strong dollar and overseas competition will get eaten by automation. Long term, service-sector jobs and “pink-collar” work in healthcare and education are what’s growing in the U.S. But white guys don’t like these jobs because they see them as “women’s work” (Claire Cain Miller in The New York Times).

The history of software provides a potential solution here: Computer programmer, too, was considered a woman’s job in the early days. But when it became clear that society needed a lot more people in these roles, and that indeed they were critically important to a prosperous future, they got a male makeover. Today, women have to fight for their space in the field. That’s no happy outcome in itself, but maybe we can learn from it. Is there some way to masculinize today’s service sector to attract unemployed factory workers without penalizing women along the way? It all boils down to what we collectively choose to respect.

The Great Retreat From Malls Continues

As online commerce booms, malls shrink: This is not a cycle but, like the decline of factories, an inexorable trend, as this week’s news from Macy’s confirms (CNBC). The chain is shuttering 68 stores and shedding 10,000 jobs. Kohl’s and Sears are cutting back, too. In-person shopping isn’t vanishing, but its middle is hollowing out, while high-end destinations and cut-rate outlets continue to do brisk business.

President-elect Trump likes to take credit for manufacturing-business changes that look like they’re saving American jobs. But don’t hold your breath waiting for Trump to take any responsibility for the Macy’s job losses, even though he has engaged in a year-long Twitter feud with the company (Mic). In truth, Trump deserves neither credit nor blame: The market is huge, bigger even than his ego, and it will continue to reshape the economy around us as we try to direct its force in more productive ways.

Apple Gives an Assist to China’s Censors

We shouldn’t be surprised that Apple has pulled The New York Times’ app from its app store in China at the government’s request (Bloomberg). China started blocking the Times’s website in 2012 after the paper ran an investigation into the fortune of the nation’s then-prime minister. Removing the app closes another avenue by which Chinese readers could access Times coverage, which has continued to break stories about corruption there.

Apple says it has no choice but to follow the relevant local laws and regulations in countries where it does business. Needless to say, Apple does a hell of a lot of business in China. If Apple chose to exit China, the way Google did in 2010, where would it build all its hardware?

Still, pulling the Times app is an ugly move that exposes the fundamental ethical compromise at the heart of Apple’s relationship with the Chinese government. The theory is that a company like Apple can influence things in a positive direction by staying engaged. That only works if strong messages are passing through private channels. Secrecy-loving Apple isn’t about to tell us what’s going on, so we’ll just have to imagine that Tim Cook is telling Xi Jinping to cut it out.

Forget the Anthropocene, and Welcome the Sapiezoic

By now you’ve probably heard about the idea of the Anthropocene Era — a notion of geological time that says we’re in the age where the planet is shaped by human beings. Astrobiologist David Grinspoon proposes a new twist on the concept: What’s really unique about the present moment in the Long Now, he writes in Aeon, is that our species is self-aware. We’re not only changing our planetary environment, but we’re doing so with some understanding — which gives us the chance to operate with some measure of feedback and error correction. Grinspoon suggests we call this new aeon the Sapiezoic, one in which “cognitive processes become a stable part of a planet’s functioning.”

It’s a hopeful vision — but one that also casts the climate debate as a species-wide referendum on our collective future. How fragile is the Sapiezoic feedback loop? As the U.S. puts climate-change deniers in positions of power, we’re going to find out.

Battelle’s Predictions, 2017 Edition

Populists will cast tech companies as their new villain. Apple’s innovative new gadget will bomb. And Trump will leave Twitter. Read NewCo editor-in-chief John Battelle’s full list of 2017 predictions in NewCo Shift — and tune in a year from now to see how he did.


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